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Pirelli: F1 Chinese GP return prompts major uncertainties after five-year absence

Pirelli Formula 1 chief engineer Simone Berra expects the Chinese GP to be a “big challenge” for both the tyre company and teams after a five-year break.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1, 1st position, inspects his car after the race

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The last race at the Shanghai circuit was held in 2019, before COVID-19 triggered an extended absence from the country.

Since then, the F1 technical regulations have changed substantially, including a switch to 18-inch tyres.

Inevitably the track surface will also have altered over the intervening years. But unusually, Pirelli has not been able to send engineers to assess it in advance, which would normally be the case with brand-new venues or ones that have not been used for a while.

Given that the track was built on swampland there is also a possibility that bumps have emerged which might not be obvious to the naked eye, but which will be discovered by the ground effect F1 cars once they are running.

An extra twist for drivers and teams as they relearn the circuit is that Shanghai is also the first sprint weekend of 2024, with FP1 on Friday followed by qualifying for Saturday’s sprint event.

"It's like a new circuit, honestly, because we have new cars, new tyres, the 18-inch [rims],” said Berra when asked by Autosport about the return to China. 

“The track was really not used in five years, it was just used for one race per year or something like that. So, it will be really green and quite dirty, although obviously, they will clean the track.

“And we need to understand even from tarmac measurement pre-event how it has changed.

“In the past, it was quite rough in terms of both micro and macro roughness. We need to understand how ageing has gone in the last years.

“It's a good challenge for us, it's interesting. The other thing is that, after five years, it's even a sprint race, with just free practice.

“So not much data, and even for the teams it will be a big challenge, not just for us, but for the teams even more probably."

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W10, leads on the opening lap of 2019 Chinese GP

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W10, leads on the opening lap of 2019 Chinese GP

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Despite not sending engineers in advance to study the track, Berra remains confident in the compound choices that Pirelli made.

“Unfortunately, I don't have any person available to do it,” he said of the lack of an early inspection. “So we'll do that directly on Wednesday.

“Anyway, it doesn't change too much, because the selection is already made. We made let's say a middle-range selection, so C2, C3, C4, which covers us from any possibility. C5 was really too soft, and C1 probably too conservative, considering the track.”

Asked if graining might be an issue he added: "In the past, we had not severe graining, but we had light graining. So yes, could be a possibility.

“I expect some graining, especially on C3 and C4, for the C2 I expect more resilience compared to the C3 and C4, so we should be covered. Let's say that in that case a high wear rate in case of graining.”

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